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Last Monday, we had a successful meeting with the Philippine Medical Association (PMA), led by its president, Dr. Jose Santiago. The private meeting, followed by a virtual press conference, ended on a good note as both organizations reaffirmed their commitment to combat the coronavirus disease 2019 or COVID-19 together.
I believe that the spirit of bayanihan will inspire us to do our duty and curb the spread of the disease. As Dr. Santiago said, “We’re not declaring war on anybody, we’re declaring war against the invisible enemy. We should be one in our mission and objective to defeat COVID-19. Conversation, not confrontation; collaboration, not competition. We cannot win this war if we are divided, we have to stay united. We cannot afford another lockdown or second wave of infection.”
If we work together, we will undoubtedly become a powerful force. Go Negosyo’s Project ARK and PMA are working now on a new collaboration to host a series of webinars wherein we will invite specialists, doctors, medical groups and associations, and the private sector to discuss the plan and strategies in building a future that sustains both lives and livelihoods. We can share information and welcome the ideas and inputs of various sectors.
The last three months have seen very limited economic movement, and the pressure to resume operations, whether MSMEs or large corporations, has been mounting. We in the private sector are doing our best to support the government as well as help our respective companies and the LGUs to tackle the pandemic head-on.
I urge the private sector and the government to strengthen its partnership and prevent a resurgence of infection, which may cause a second lockdown. Another economic slowdown will surely destroy this country.
A second lockdown will be devastating to the livelihoods of our MSMEs and large corporations and will impede the great progress we have already made to bounce back from the crisis. The government’s stimulus package and all the other efforts and programs of the different sectors will be compromised. If this occurs, it will be a great blow to the nation, and people may lose hope.
For us to keep the economy open, we need to maintain clear visibility of the pandemic through the regular testing of individuals. Partner companies have launched mass testing within their own organizations, and LGUs such as Antipolo, Manila City, Batangas, Quezon City, Pasig, Taguig, and Makati (through the support of Project ARK) are currently screening their constituents as well. On top of the rapid testing, Project ARK will also be conduct seroprevalence tests this June.
I have always emphasized that our approach should be centered on testing, tracing, and treating people. In the past months, Project ARK has taken steps to boost both rapid and PCR testing across the country. The government, under the leadership of Sec. Carlito Galvez, on the other hand, has also made great strides in mitigating the virus by constructing more COVID-19 facilities.
To date, we have partnered with more than 300 companies and have procured more than 1.2 million rapid test kits through generous donations. We have also equipped 12 hospitals to become centers for rapid and PCR testing, thus increasing the national capacity by another 12,000 tests. This has been achieved through the help of ARK-PCR private sector chief implementer Jannette Garin.
I believe that the key to surviving and thriving amidst the pandemic is to create visibility. And the only way to create visibility is to do targeted mass testing. Currently, we are tapping a few hospitals that we have supported to become the initiators of pooled PCR testing. Pooled testing is another means to increase testing capacity and make it more accessible and affordable.
Two weeks ago, Rep. Garin mentioned this to me and I believe that this is the right step forward. China had succeeded in testing more than 10 million people in just two weeks using this method.
In pool testing, several individuals from a community are tested together using one test. If there is a positive result, only then will individual tests be done. According to a study, this is an efficient means to test large numbers of people where infection levels are low as most batches would produce negative results. Pooling samples enables more tests with existing kits, while still providing sufficient diagnostic accuracy.
We must use all the tools and explore all options and approaches to protect the lives and livelihood of our people. Let us not be complacent and let us all work together as one nation to defeat COVID-19.